Thanksgiving 1892: Temperance And Snake Oil

For some light holiday reading, we travel back in time to November, 1892 to see what the former Wakefield Citizen & Banner was talking about 120 Thanksgiving seasons ago.

The Wakefield Citizen & Banner appears to have run from about the 1870s up until right before World War I, judging from the range of microfilm available at the Beebe Library.

And this week, the former newspaper provided ample material for a look at what Wakefielders were doing during the Thanksgiving season of 1892. One interesting detail that comes up in the November 4, 1892 issue of the paper is an obituary for Mrs. Mary E.T. Beebe, age 44, who died of a year-long illness and who it says was the second wife of a Lucius Beebe, who was already apparently dead himself at that point, and who left behind a son named Charles J. Beebe. I say "a" Lucius Beebe because as the library website notes - there were several of them - and none of them seem to have any information online with a connection to Mary.

As many Wakefielders know, the Sweetser Lecture Series brings a variety of interesting speakers to town to discuss important issues of the day. However, many may not know that this was also the case more than 120 years ago. On November 25, 1892, the Sweetser Lecture series welcomed Rev. Henry G. Spaulding of Newton for a talk entitled "Pompeii: The Drama Of Vesuvius."

Otherwise, what passed for local news would in many cases never make its way into a newspaper today. There were also dozens of these little news items, often just a few sentences long. The real writing in this paper seems to have been done by local women, and maybe one or two men, who were having what appeared to be fiction works published toward the back pages. "Will J. Bennett is sick with typhoid fever," announced one such news nugget on November 25, 1892. "Julius Budtcher lost a finger while working a circular saw at the rattan factory last Friday. Dr. Mansfield dressed the wound," said another one from two weeks earlier.

Along with a missing finger, the wicker chair factory also reportedly had 768 tons of rattan in from Singapore. Elsewhere in town, the Wakefield Cabinet Co. was filling "a large order from Horace Partridge for the manufacture of Indian clubs and dumb bells."

Below that, we were told that "Frank P. Hoyt is sick with throat trouble." Personally, that sounds like a scam to get out of work from the mill. Just let the local newspaper editor overhear you complaining about your health, and it's even better than having a note from your doctor. "B.D. Ivans was thrown from a wagon by a runaway horse," announced another item, which would have been a HIPAA administrator's worst nightmare.

Leonid Meteors And A Standard Oil Lawsuit

Another interesting item found that a Wakefield oil delivery man had sued Standard Oil after falling on Main Street over a length of hose during a delivery. As a result of his lawsuit, some underground piping had been installed allowing delivery workers to do their job with as little as four feet of hose instead of 50.

Mixed in with the random finger amputation notes and church social shout-outs, we also find an occasional editorial remark, completely just thrown into the mix. "If any street in town needs repairing, it is surely Albion Street, especially that part between Railroad and Main Streets," abruptly noted another news item, adding that the road had been "a puddle of mud" all week since a recent storm.

Interestingly, one news item mentioned a local resident observing a meteor shower and counting about 400 to 500 of them in a short term. This was quite possibly the Leonid Meteor Shower, which just illuminated our skies days ago.

The lack of significant writing and reporting also produced the following sentence, without a single bit of additional information: "The Trefethen-Davis murder case will again be tried at East Cambridge next month."

Thanksgiving In 1892

Regarding Thanksgiving - Cutler Brothers announced its second anniversary in its new story - but (seriously) did not provide the address in its ad. Their specials included prunes, figs, raisins, "Porto Rico Molasses," "old popping corn," "native shellbacks, and Vermont turkeys ("fresh killed and tender for which our house is noted").

Elsewhere, the Wakfield Baptist Sunday School held its annual Thanksgiving and Harvest Concert, with musical selections provided by the Wakefield Orchestral Club. At 10:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, services were held at the Episcopal, Baptist and Congregational Churches.

"Christmas goods are beginning to make their appearance in many of the stores," noted the newspaper in its Nov. 18, 1892 issue.

Grover Cleveland Wins Campaign 1892

That issue also happened to note very indirectly that Democrats had won the election. "Wakefield Democrats celebrated the victory of the democracy on Friday evening in a becoming manner." The newspaper added that  "the discharge of dynamite cartridges, cannon crackers and torpedoes made the Republicans realize that something had happened." One would imply from the language that the newspaper had a bit of a tilt toward the Democrats, but the thing is - the article didn't once mention the name of the Democrat (Grover Cleveland) who had just been elected president of the United States. So who knows?

Temperance Movement Gains Ground Locally

As implied in the title of this article, the Temperance Movement was apparently gaining strong momentum in this area in the 1890s. After all, Prohibition wouldn't be that far off. For example, the Nov. 25, 1892 issue noted that "The forcible but brilliant David Frost" would be coming to speak on temperance. Ironically, he looked more like David Crosby minus the beard.

Also, there appears to have already been some sort of now-forgotten liquor controls in place locally, unless there was more moonshining activity than we suspect. The newspaper praised the police chief for getting a three-month sentence for Patrick Maloney for illegally keeping and selling intoxicating liquors. "Maloney has been in similar trouble before," said the paper. Another report had a Woburn man getting picked up with 90 gallons of liquor and then having the whole thing vaguely resolved in court.

Dubious Medicinal Type Products Regularly Advertised

Regarding the snake oil reference - this newspaper had a big share of dubious advertisements, and many of them look suspiciously like the "snake oil" type products that hucksters peddled around this time.

"Pimples, blotches, scrofula, are all caused by impure blood," stated one ad for "Kickapoo Indian Sagwa," which in another issue appeared to carry an endorsement from Buffalo Bill Cody. The stuff was said to be a "pure vegetable compound" made from herbs, barks and roots. Another ad from the Boston Paralytic and Nerve Institute at 208 Tremont Street in Boston stated its mission was "for the treatment of paralysis, deformities, epilepsy, brain and nervous diseases in all their forms."

Another ad from Rev. T.P. Childs of Troy, Ohio invited people to send for his own home remedies. "25 years of experience in the preparation of proven remedies for nasal catarrh (?) and bronchitis has proved that my home treatment will cure," said the reverend in his ad.

Many of the advertisements also featured local Wakefield businesses. For example, Ed Daland's at 30 Main Street had an ad saying "Gentlemen have you seen the night robes we are selling at 50 cents and $1 each?" My first instinct was that it was something for husbands to bring home to their wives with the hope of getting a little glimpse of ankle later, but it actually turns out that no, night robes were the fashion.

So there we have it. Wakefielders have been celebrating Thanksgiving for well over 120 years, and not everything has necessarily changed very much. From time to time, this website will pick up where this article left off, checking out what local residents and businesses were doing more than a century ago. Follow-ups are especially likely around Christmas and New Year's. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving 2012 to all of you.

Editor's Note: This 1892 newspaper also covered some Lynnfield Centre items on occasion. .

Brian Falvey November 22, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Sounds like in 1892 they liked to communicate in micro messages no longer than 140 characters...hmmm...now where did I hear about something similar to that recently? Happy Thanksgiving.


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